Bring on the tournament success factor.
Let's face it: The high school football state finals have become as stale as month-old bread. With the same teams winning the smallest four classes every year, the state championship games at Lucas Oil Stadium have simply become a coronation ceremony.
Nothing against Cathedral (Class 4A), Bishop Chatard (3A), Fort Wayne Bishop Luers (2A) or Lafayette Central Catholic (A). Those are great teams. Dynasties. But the general public is tired of seeing the game teams win, year after year.
The numbers prove it. Attendance for Saturday's three games was 18,543, down from 23,102 last year and 28,832 in 2010. The overall two-day attendance was 27,371, down from 34,838 last year and 39,641 in 2010.
That is a drop off of more than 30 percent in a two-year period. It's a problem. And Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Bobby Cox knows it.
"When you have the same matchups year after year after year, people don't come watch it," Cox said Saturday night as the seconds ticked away on Lawrence Central's 39-14 win over Fort Wayne Snider in the Class 5A title game.
That said, Cox isn't too concerned about the recent downward trend in attendance. When I posted the attendance numbers on Twitter on Saturday night, several people mentioned the high ticket prices. And tickets are pricey, at $15 per day. That's a $100 day for a family of four when you factor in parking and food. But Cox noted that ticket costs have remained the same since the state finals moved to Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008.
But more than that, the matchups aren't intriguing. How much more interesting would it have been on Saturday to have Bishop Chatard play Cathedral? Instead Chatard and Cathedral won by a combined 44 points over Hamilton Heights and Mishawaka, respectively, as each won a third consecutive championship.
Even the players of the winning teams admitted it might be time for a new challenge. Lafayette Central Catholic coach Kevin O'Shea has done a remarkable job building his program into a powerhouse, winning four consecutive Class A titles. He was right last week when it said it should be up to other programs to "get better."
But what is the point in winning regional games every year by five touchdowns? In 24 playoff games over the past four years, LCC has won by a combined score of 996-136. That's 42-6 every game. None of those games were within 10 points and only three were within 20. The numbers are similar for Fort Wayne Luers, Bishop Chatard and Cathedral.
Great for them, bad for everyone else. Yet all those programs play larger schools during the season and have great success. Why not carry it over to the tournament?
The tournament success factor comes at the right time. Interest is waning. Fans want to see new blood, or at least competitive games. Cathedral, Bishop Chatard, Fort Wayne Luers and LCC -- as well as back-to-back Class A runner-up Scecina -- will all move up next year.
"We didn't make the change because we're worried about attendance, but we made the change because we're worried about competition," Cox said. "But I think a byproduct is that it'll impact attendance, too."
Adding a sixth class next will guarantee an attendance spike. Class A, 3A and 5A will be played on Friday, with 2A, 4A and 6A on Saturday. It's quite possible that we could see the same teams back again, playing in their new classes. Kudos to them if it happens. But hopefully the changes will result in more compelling games.